Challenges When You Get Married to a Foreigner
I was married to a foreigner for 1.5 years and it was one of the most challenging phases of my life. I was sacrificing everything for this marriage to work out and did everything in my power to make our relationship work but unfortunately, there was no happy end to it.
Nonetheless, there are endless marriages in which one of the spouses is a foreigner and they have been happily married for many years. I have a lot of friends who are married to foreigners and they even have kids by now. I am 100% convinced that it can work even though it didn't work for me. I am not writing this out of disappointment and anger. Intercultural marriages can work and turn out into a wonderful lifetime experience for both spouses, as long as they are aware of the risks and challenges involved.
1 Visas and Residency Permits
One of the biggest challenges is the visa that your spouse might need if he is planning to move to your country or if you are planning to move to his. Many factors need to be considered here such as:
- Is your spouse allowed to work in your country or are you allowed to work in his? If yes, what are the requirements? How long does it take to be granted a work permit?
- Does your spouse/do you have any degrees and certificates? If yes, make sure you get them translated and legalized as this is often a requirement when you apply for university or a job in a foreign country
- Does your spouse/do you need a birth certificate for the visa process?
- Does your spouse/do you need a language certificate to start the visa process? If yes, when are the exams and how long does the preparation take?
These factors can vary significantly depending on the country of origin and the destination country.
Language barriers are also one of the biggest challenges in a marriage with a foreign spouse. Make sure both of you start learning each other's languages. Both languages should have an equal value in the relationship and learning your spouse's language will make him/her feel like you are interested in his/her culture and want to know more about it. On top of that, learning the language of your destination country is very useful as it can facilitate the job search and help with the integration process. If you cannot speak the language of the country you live in, you will feel lost and are unable to communicate with most people and this can easily trigger arguments between you and your spouse.
3 Financial Commitments
Along with the pressure of learning the language, finding a job and fitting into the new environment, financial stress can be a real challenge for an intercultural marriage. Make sure to talk about financial commitments. This is not one of the most fun conversation topics but it is extremely important to talk about it beforehand because it can avoid a lot of trouble.
From my experience, it is recommendable for each spouse to have his/her own bank account, even if there is an additional joint bank account. You should avoid a situation in which one spouse is financially dependent on the other spouse for too long. A feeling of financial dependence can have a negative effect on the relationship and could make the dependent spouse feel inferior to his/her partner.
It is essential for both partners to be aware how much is spent on monthly expenses, how much money is earned and how much money is saved. It is difficult for a foreigner to get a feeling for the value of a foreign currency and it takes some time to get used to it and to stop converting prices to one's own currency.
Both spouses should also have some sort of security deposit for emergencies. It is not very pleasant to imagine a separation when you are deeply in love but what happens if you do separate one day? How would you handle your finances? Would it make sense to sign a marriage contract? Have you or has your spoue saved up enough money to pay a flight back to the respective country of origin?
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4 Hurtful Remarks
You will get a ton of remarks from friends and family members about whether the marriage is really a good idea. Some may even say it is a mistake. After all, there are millions of stories of sham marriages involving foreigners and immigration... There are not really millions of cases but this is what everyone makes it sound like. There are so many other reasons for a marriage to end and no one talks about it when it involves a marriage with two spouses from the same country. Nonetheless, you can expect such remarks. I advise you not to get too heated up about it. You won't be able to change their thoughts or opinions. You will get support from your real friends, no matter what. They will be there encouraging you at all times, regardless of your decisions.
Distance can be an issue in international marriages. One family will always be further away than the other one and visiting them will always be more difficult and most of the time more expensive than visiting the other family in the same county. Bonding with the family living in a foreign country is more difficult and you cannot build up such a strong bond than if they were living in the same country. Skype is a great way to communicate with the other side of the family but it doesn't replace personal encounters and experiences.
6 Cultural Differences
Cultural differences are a big issue in international marriages. Although living with a person from another culture can be enriching, fun and interesting, it can also lead to frustration and arguments when there are disagreements regarding the celebration of holidays, daily habits, the role of men and women, how to act around other people as a couple or how much time is spent with family and friends, if traveling alone is excepted in the other culture or not and so much more. It can be difficult to work through all of those differences. Some things that are taken for granted in one culture may not be too common in the other one.
7 Vacation vs. Living Together
Some couples decide to get married before they have even lived together. This was common 50 years ago but nowadays, I advise everyone to test it first before tying the knot, especially if it is an intercultural marriage. When you are on vacation with your spouse, the circumstances are absolutely different and you do not have to deal with daily chores and obligations. Everyday life is not as relaxing as spending time at the beach or at a salsa party with your loved one so you should definitely give it a try before you commit yourself for a whole lifetime and before one of you leaves behind everything to move to a foreign country.
8 Don't Forget the Fun
You will be facing a lot of hurdles, financial burdens, formalities and stress related to the visa procedure, the apartment search, the job hunt and much more when one of you moves. Never forget that you need to "maintain" your marriage. Look after your partner, take a break from everyday life, go on a trip together, have dinner at a nice restaurant, look for a mutual hobby, give yourselves a time-out from time to time. You both deserve it. Don't lose the romanticism over all the stress you are handling during those first difficult years.
9 Bilingual Education
If you are planning to have children one day, you might be wondering which language to teach them. I would advise you inform yourself about the option of raising your children bilingually. This is a great opportunity for your children to learn a second language without making much effort. However, there are different types of bilingual education and there are some ground rules you should stick to in order to successfully teach your child 2 languages from birth onwards. It might also be a good idea to talk to a linguist about it before embarking on this adventure. Teaching your children bilingually requires a lot of discipline and can also be exhausting but if you do it right and stick to it from the very beginning, you are bound to be successful.
Along with all the excitement and fun of marrying a foreigner, it comes with multiple challenges that not everyone can deal with. It requires patience, commitment and endurance on both sides. But once you have managed to get through the initial phase which can last between several months up to many years, you can expect to benefit from the many advantages it brings and lead a happy intercultural marriage that will last for a lifetime.